Paul headshot

A few years ago, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lake Tahoe community leaders had a problem. The region was seeing a sudden frenzy of visitors and new residents, all looking to escape pandemic restrictions and enjoy the outdoors. Although the economy was booming, there were signs of trouble. Demand for real estate skyrocketed, pushing locals out of the housing market. Labor shortages reached a crisis level, as businesses struggled to serve long lines of frustrated customers. The region’s prized natural resource – the lake – was experiencing significant wear and tear, as visitors left trash on beaches and trails, polluted the lake area, and created parking and traffic nuisances for residents. Tensions between residents and visitors reached a tipping point. Officials wondered: how could they continue to welcome visitors to support the local economy, but do so in a responsible way that protected the region’s delicate natural environment?

To help solve their problem, Tahoe tourism officials took an approach that will be familiar to anyone who remembers the Keep America Beautiful public service announcements of the 70s and 80s: they created an anti-litter campaign. But they took these efforts a step further. Using an evidence-based marketing approach and a little creative thinking, they identified the types of visitors who already demonstrated responsible travel behaviors. Then they targeted marketing campaigns to these groups, encouraging sustainability-minded travelers to visit during the “off-seasons” to spread out congestion and limit environmental impacts.

Their strategy worked. The “Rules to Lake By” campaign resulted in a 9% increase in overnight visitors from this “sustainability audience” during off-peak times of year. Better still, visitor data showed these travelers spent more and stayed longer than other groups, producing an outsized economic benefit for the region.

Lake Tahoe, like other leading destinations across the country and the world, is using data and evidence to strategically inform their tourism marketing efforts. At the Cape Cod Chamber, we’re working to do the same. Our team regularly reviews key economic indicators, as well as geolocation and spending data, to better understand Cape Cod’s tourism economy and its impact for our region. This information, in turn, will help us to strategically promote our region, steer regional policymaking, and protect the things that make this place special for visitors and residents alike.

There’s no question that tourism is a significant driver of economic activity, both in our region and across the state. Tourism is the third largest industry in the Commonwealth, producing $69 billion in economic impact. On Cape Cod alone, the regional tourism economy directly employs 12,000 people and generates $180+ million per year in state and local tax receipts – second only to Greater Boston.

The Cape’s tourism economy is also resilient. During the pandemic, we saw an uptick in visitation while many other destinations suffered significant loss of revenue. Last summer, while other destinations saw drops in key indicators like hotel occupancy, the Cape sustained its summer business and even grew activity in the shoulder seasons. Cape Cod is clearly a desirable, world-class destination. However, our destination also faces many challenges.

How do we continue to foster economic opportunity through tourism and visitation? What is the current state of the Cape’s tourism economy, and how does it impact our region? We’ll discuss these and other important topics at the Chamber’s annual Travel & Tourism Industry Forum on March 27, from 10 AM to Noon at the DoubleTree in Hyannis. If your business is one of the many in our region that relies on tourism to be successful, we hope you’ll make plans to attend and be part of the conversation.